Ruthven or Harper? Should you see the feathers or count the wings?

How to simplify? What’s essential; what’s not? How many details to include? These are questions both lawyers and painters ask themselves. How many questions should I ask this witness? How many facts should I put in this brief? What are the main points for the client? the judge? Should I paint in all the feathers or only a few to suggest others. How much to include; what to discard? Selectivity is key in art and law (and blogs!). Selectivity is an artful judgment call.

The works of two remarkable wildlife artists from Cincinnati, Charley Harper (1922-2007) and John Ruthven (1927-  ), demonstrate the point. Recently, Ruthven and Harper birds have been enlarged into murals, painted by a non-profit named ArtWorks on the sides of downtown Cincinnati buildings.

Here’s the Harper mural:

And here’s the Ruthven mural:

A Harper bird is simplified to its essential, nearly abstract, form. A Ruthven bird is detailed in the tradition of John James Audubon (1785-1851), the French-American painter, naturalist and ornithologist.

About his minimalist viewpoint, Charley Harper said: “ I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings.” As lawyers, choosing minimalism or factualism, or something in between, is a judgment call. What will work best to accomplish what you and your client want? Facing a blank canvas rather than blank legal pad, a painter also has to decide whether to see the feathers or count the wings.